Sunday, November 2, 2014

Celebrating the Desert Protection Act

Senator Dianne Feinstein's California Desert Protection Act (CDPA) was signed into law 20 years ago on October 31, 1994, establishing new protections for vast stretches of the desert.  The CDPA established 69 new Wilderness areas,  created the Mojave National Preserve, converted Death Valley and Joshua Tree National Monuments into National Parks, and added acreage to both parks.

Watching the sun set in a remote corner of the Mojave forges a connection between me and generations past, and it would be nice to know that future generations will share the same natural heritage.  Witnessing mountain shadows gently stretch across miles of open desert, hearing coyotes howl at twilight as bats flutter by, and being immersed in an infinite blanket of stars overhead are some of the treasured experiences you can have in the desert. 

Clouds stroll across the sky during the midday in the Mojave National Preserve, casting shadows on the mountains and valley.
These experiences are increasingly threatened, however, as cities sprawl outward, new major highways threaten to slice across the landscape, and transmission lines and power plants interrupt the wild.  As we watch industry and other human sprawl carve up the unprotected portions of the desert, pollute its air and spoil the night sky, it is good to hear that the Senator plans to continue her efforts for another desert protection bill that would grant Wilderness and monument designation to more of the desert.  This will not be an easy win, and the Senator has been working on this second desert protection bill since 2009.  The first draft bill of the CDPA that established the Mojave National Preserve was originally introduced in 1986, long before it finally passed Congress in 1994.


If Feinstein's new desert protection act passes, it will be worth the wait.  It would offer more permanent protection status to beautiful landscapes, ensuring that desert's solitude will not be hard to find.  Unlike some of the National Parks on the east coast - where towns and cities may be seen from a large portion of the parks - the American southwest still has much larger intact landscapes where nature dominates, not human society.  And California is especially blessed with grand desert vistas - not what they once were, but certainly unique among the lower 48 United States for their accessibility and intactness.   You can drive  from the southern entrance of Joshua Tree National Park north to Scotty's Castle in Death Valley National Park for 335 miles almost entirely on two-lane road surrounded by beautiful desert, with only minor human interruptions.   And for miles on either side there is a seemingly boundless stretch of wildlands begging for exploration and offering a peaceful moment to appreciate life.

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